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The play's still the thing, but management is changing at Shakespeare Festival

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 22, 2009 - The Shakespeare Festival has announced internal restructuring that includes the resignation of artistic director Dawn McAndrews and a nationwide search to fill a newly created executive director position. The Festival will not seek a replacement artistic director.

“Given the economic environment, we are looking on the short-term horizon – one or two years out,” said Board Chairman Mont Levy. “Since early fall, we have been on the alert and cut our budget some 40 percent from the original. We’d been looking at what the structure of this organization ought to look like. … The conclusion was it doesn’t make sense to be led by an artistic director.”

Levy said the responsibilities of the proposed executive director would include hiring a seasonal producing director.

“That person [the producing director] will have primary responsibility to get our annual production produced and on the stage,” said Levy.

Levy also said that the executive director would be expected to help engage potential donors.

“We’ve got a big job to raise money,” said Levy. “The whole notion of the Shakespeare Festival is Shakespeare free in Forest Park.”

McAndrews will remain in St. Louis over the summer to lead the production of “Merry Wives of Windsor.” That play will run from May 20 to June 14 every night except Tuesday.

According to a release from the Festival, she plans on returning to the East Coast to be closer to her extended family after that time.  “I have enjoyed collaborating with the many talented artists here in St. Louis and the opportunity to contribute to the vibrant arts community,” McAndrews said in the release. “My time at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has been rewarding, and I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.”

Festival leadership has undergone several changes since its first performance of "Romeo and Juliet" in 2001.

Initially, it was led dually by a managing director and producing director, said current managing director Marilyn Spirt. In 2007, then-producing director Robert Townsend left St. Louis, which precipitated the hiring of McAndrews as artistic director, a new position at the time.

During the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the Festival was considered under sole leadership of McAndrews. “This year,” said Spirt, “we reverted to dual leadership.” Spirt said that the executive director position is new to the Festival, and when it is filled the production will once again be considered under sole leadership.

When asked what difference sole leadership or dual leadership means to what the public sees each summer at Forest Park, Spirt said, “None.”

In addition to restructuring, the Festival has undertaken a $1 million capital fundraising effort this year through a small group of major donors, said Levy. Money raised has gone to new tents and banners, landscaping efforts, underground wiring and a limestone wall and improved drainage in Shakespeare Glen.

Anna Vitale is a freelance writer. 

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